“Eating oyster is like kissing the sea on the lips,” famous Parisian poet and essayist Léon-Paul Fargue once wrote.
The epitome of fine cuisine, oysters have delighted and inspired artists, chefs, gourmands, and seafood lovers since time immemorial. Oval or pear-shaped with a rugged outward appearance, their salty and slippery flesh is prized by connoisseurs around the world.
To the untrained eye, most oysters look similar. However, do you know that the provenance of these bivalves deeply influences their taste?
Thanks to Chef Eric Cheam of Pan Pacific Orchard’s 10 at Claymore, we can dive more deeply into the fine art of identifying and tasting oysters.
Recent runner-up at the 21st Guinness Oyster Opening Championship in Singapore, Chef Cheam introduces us to five different types of oysters hailing from different coastal regions of the world—France, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and the Republic of Ireland.
From his five years of dedication at Pan Pacific Orchard’s 10 at Claymore restaurant in Singapore, Chef Cheam personally shares his recommended condiment pairings based on the oysters’ countries of origin.
Get ready to take your taste buds on a journey across the Pacific and other oceans.
1. Fine de Claire: France’s Best Oysters
Pick a Fine de Claire if you prefer a less fleshy and more juicy oyster. Easily distinguished by their flat stature with distinctive green or blue gills, these oysters exude the French pursuit for quality, having been soaked in salt ponds (claire) for at least a month for a finishing touch.
A maximum of 3 kg of oysters per square metre are allowed in a claire. During this time, the oysters gain a fruitier flavour. This process increases the saltiness of the oysters but also makes them more challenging to shuck.
For those unaccustomed to their saltier taste, Chef Cheam recommends “going with red wine vinegar to neutralise the saltiness.” You may also pair these luscious morsels with French Chardonnay to smoothen the flow.
2. A Taste of The Great White North: Canadian Oysters
Canadian Fanny Bay Pacific Oysters are hearty, firm, and smooth in texture. Hailing from British Columbia’s oyster farming region in Baynes Sound on the east coast of Vancouver Island, they are moderate in size. Cultivated in mesh bags tied to the seabed in the intertidal zone, Fanny Bay oysters grew up protected from predators, and were harvested easily by their caretakers.
Recommended for beginning connoisseurs, these oysters taste moderately salty and are average in size.
Although seaweed caviar can pair well with Canadian oysters’ creaminess, Chef Cheam recommends something stronger: salsa. Its spicy jolt will excite even the most jaded and well-conditioned oyster lovers.
Enhance the epicurean pleasure by downing this with a mojito or champagne—a combination that never fails to thrill.
3. Freshness From The Pacific Northwest: US Oysters
Oysters sourced fresh from Washington Bay in the United States of America are milder in taste, less fishy and briny. Like their Canadian counterparts, US oysters also tend to be bigger. They can grow up to 30 cm long while attached to beach rocks, resulting in an uneven shell.
“Some of our guests say, ‘I want these big ones!’ It’s up to the individual’s preference,” relates Chef Cheam with a grin. Because of the larger size of these oysters on the Pacific Rim, seaweed caviar pairs well with their creamy and fleshy nature.
You should also add an alcoholic shooter such as a Bloody Mary to your Washington Bay oyster tasting. Doing so with these larger oysters creates an ideal balance between the different tastes.
4. Hand-Farmed Goodness: New Zealand Oysters
Farmed from South Island in the biting cold of the Southern winter, these New Zealand sea delights are sourced from nutrient-rich waters away from dirt and sediment. Because they are submerged for over a year, they are usually more succulent and plump than their oyster cousins. The juiciness of New Zealand oysters also makes them heavier than those from other countries.
According to Chef Cheam, a small scoop of salsa is the perfect complement to New Zealand’s oysters. To round it off, a sip of champagne provides a little more punch to the combination, leaving a thoroughly lasting and satisfying experience.
5. An Atlantic Treasure Trove: Oysters from the Republic of Ireland
Irish oysters are a big part of Ireland’s local cuisine—natives have been eating them for thousands of years. Less salty, they go well with red wine vinegar which gives them a tangy flavour.
Shucking an Irish oyster is tough. To Chef Cheam, however, the effort is well worth it for their lush taste. Before shucking, he uses a fork or spoon to give the shell a few hard knocks. If the resulting sound is loud and robust, the oyster is juicy and fresh.
Should you add chilli sauce to your oysters? Chef Cheam has this to say: “For live oysters, if you add too much tabasco or other kinds of marination, it will spoil the freshness.”
If you truly love the natural taste of freshly shucked oysters, try sampling them without any condiments.
Live Oysters Freshly Shucked at the Pan Pacific Orchard
All oysters at 10 at Claymore are chosen by hand and freshly shucked on the spot by award-winning chefs. The recipient of a “Global Luxury Bistro and Best Head Chef” accolade in the the World Luxury Restaurant Awards 2016 and one star in the Wine & Dine Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2016 collection, 10 at Claymore is a haven of both international fine dining and local Singaporean delights.